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Thomas Nagel Biography

(1937– ), Mortal Questions, The View from Nowhere, What Does It All Mean, Equality and Partiality

university philosophy professor wide

American philosopher, born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia; from 1939 onward he lived in the USA, of which he became a naturalized citizen in 1944. After studying at Cornell and Oxford, he obtained his Ph.D. at Harvard in 1963, when he became an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He subsequently held a succession of posts at Princeton University before becoming Professor of Philosophy at New York University in 1980. Mortal Questions (1979) gained wide notice for its examination of a number of the central themes of human existence, including death, sexuality, and socio-political issues. Nagel's quest for ‘a philosophical method that aims at personal as well as theoretical understanding’ was fulfilled by the book's success in combining analytical rigour with a breadth of appeal to common experience. The humane orientation of his work was sustained in The View from Nowhere (1986), a compellingly lucid analysis of the tensions between the subjective and objective aspects of intellection and identity; the quasi-instinctual desire to achieve objectivity is seen as fundamental to the central preoccupations of philosophy in the course of the wide-ranging development towards a concluding treatment of major ethical problems. Nagel's engagement of experientially urgent matters which have been obscured in the highly technical writings of many philosophers prompted Charles Taylor to recommend the book to ‘all … who are bored with or in despair about philosophy’. Other works by Nagel include What Does It All Mean (1987), a stimulating survey of nine essential topics for beginners in philosophy, and Equality and Partiality (1991), in which he discusses questions of justice.

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